In his 24-year major league career, knuckleballer Phil Niekro won 318 games, had 245 complete games in 716 starts and posted eight seasons of pitching more than 245 innings. In four seasons, the right-hander threw more than 330 innings.
Niekro had 13 seasons of 15 or more wins, including three 20-plus win campaigns, and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
So, what is the secret to throwing a great knuckleball?
"All I know is that I'm certain that I can throw about seven out of every 10 knuckleballs under control," said the now 74-year-old Niekro, who was born on April Fools Day. "But even after all these years I still don't know why the knuckleball does what it does. I had success pitching in high school with the knuckleball. And I knew this was my ticket to the majors."
Niekro -- who made a guest appearance Tuesday at Vince Diaco's annual Baseball World Summer Camp at Westport's Wakeman Field -- certainly fashioned a legendary resume after reaching the majors at age 25 with the Atlanta Braves thanks to the unique knuckleball.
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds in his playing days, Niekro never threw the hard knuckleball that right-hander R.A. Dickey -- a 2012 National League Cy Young winner for the New York Mets -- continues to feature now with the Toronto Blue Jays.
But Niekro -- who collected 3,342 strikeouts in 5,404 innings while tossing just 226 wild pitches, hitting 123 batters and allowing 482 homers -- feels there will always be a place in baseball for knuckleballers. Even though power pitchers are the newest prized commodity.
"I don't think we'll ever say never. There will always be somebody throwing the knuckleball," Niekro said. "I think R.A. Dickey winning the Cy Young Award last year spawned a whole new generation of kids interested in the pitch. Dickey's knuckleball has a quicker but shorter break because of its speed. Right now, I'm working with a couple of kids in the Baltimore Orioles farm system and a couple in the Atlanta Braves system on throwing the knuckleball.
"The bottom line is that every kid can't throw 95 miles per hour."
Growing up in coal mining country in Ohio, Niekro was appreciative of wearing a major league uniform for 24 seasons.
Niekro was making about $600,000 with George Steinbrenner's Yankees on Oct. 6, 1985 when he beat the Blue Jays in Toronto on the final day of the regular season for his historic 300th career win. There was no huge merchandising tie-in with historic milestones back then.
"I had lost my last four starts going for No. 300. The Blue Jays (99-62) clinched the American League East Division title over the Yankees (97-64) the previous night. So I had one last chance for No. 300 on Sunday," Niekro recalled. "I enjoyed wearing Yankee pinstripes. I actually sensed the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio etc. at the old Yankee Stadium. I got my 300th victory (at age 46). I'm the only member of the 300-win club to reach the milestone as a Yankee."
There have been only two new 300-career victory club members (Tom Glavine, August 2007; Randy Johnson, June 2009) since Niekro. There are 24 lifetime 300-game winners with 10 occuring before 1925 and six before 1902.
"It's going to be hard for the present-day pitchers to reach 300 wins. It's 15 seasons of 20 wins each or 20 years of 15 wins each," Niekro said. "Pitchers don't have long careers anymore (arm health, higher salaries). It's gone from throwing 300 innings a year in my era to a complete game being a rarity now. I know I hate it every time I hear the words `pitch count and six-inning quality starts.'"